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South African Military veterans cry foul: ‘A ticking time bomb’

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South Africa
South Africa

-THANDISIZWE MGUDLWA

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa must address the question of military veterans’ benefits, if he wants peace and stability to exist.

In October 2021, a group of military veterans held two government ministers and a deputy minister hostage.

They demanded government jobs, R4.2 million (US$285 000) compensation each, land for housing, and free education for their dependents.
The group, which called itself the Liberation Struggle War Veterans, consists of former members of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), Azanian People’s Liberation Army (APLA) and the Azanian National Liberation Army (Azanla), allied to the Black Consciousness Movement.

Azanla was not officially disbanded during the negotiations to end apartheid as the Black Consciousness Movement boycotted the talks. They have been referred to as ‘latecomers to the compensation process’, so to speak.

In 2011, the Military Veterans Act was promulgated and obliges the State to provide military veterans access to healthcare, subsidised public transport, education, skills and job training as well as burial support.

On February 19, 2014, the Department of Military Veterans had gazetted the MVBR in Section 5 of the Military Veterans Act stipulating clear guidelines for the roll out of benefits as prescribed in the regulations gazette.

And in March, 2014, the South African government reported that Military veterans now have access to critical benefits such as housing, health, education, burial support and pensions among other benefits because of the Military Veterans Benefits Regulations (MVBR).

Other benefits included job creation and placements as well as business support.

Military Veterans Department announced that the benefits will be rolled out in strategic spending of the R300 million that Treasury has allocated to the department.

“We have been hard at work for over a year to prepare the plans so that when the consultations are complete and the money is accordingly transferred we should immediately commence with the roll out of the benefits,” it said.

With regard to housing, the department said an amount of R72 million was allocated to the roll out the provision of 505 houses to military veterans.

However, it said detailed plans as well as Service Level Agreements with the Department of Human Settlements both nationally and provincially were being finalised to ensure speedy provision of these long awaited houses to military veterans.

The department said between October and December 2013, presumably, they had undertaken road shows to the nine provinces, where they distributed 5 000 medical healthcare cards to military veterans.

The healthcare cards enabled the veterans to get free medical care at any medical facility of the South African Medical Health Service (SAMHS) of the South African National Defence Force (SAMHS).

“A total amount of over R3 million was spent for that campaign. We are now on the basis of the information gathered at the time providing counselling to more 1000 military veterans,” the department said.

On education, the department said during the previous academic year, 100 bursaries at the cost R2 million were provided to military veterans at both basic education and tertiary.

The department also said for the 2014/15 academic year, the figure had been doubled.

“200 bursaries have been provided to military veterans and an amount of R6 million has been allocated to ensure that books, laptops and other education materials necessary for military veterans and their dependents’ for them to study without any hassles are also provide,” it said.

To date, according to the department, it has provided burial support to almost 500 military veterans who died destitute.

Before the gazetting, an amount of R10 000 was provided to families of military veterans for burial support.

“We are indeed elated to announce that following the gazetting, the amount has been increased to 25 000 as well as the provision of a coffin.

“We believe that this will go a long way in ensuring that military veterans are provided dignified and honourable burials that they surely deserve,” it said.

The departmentl further announced that they had reached an agreement with the Department of Social Development to utilise the capacity and capability of South African Social Security Agency to accelerate the delivery of pensions to military veterans. The department promised the Ministry will soon be making the detailed announcement of this matter.

With regard to job creation, the department said to date almost 1 200 military veterans have been assisted to access job opportunities through a Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) signed with the Departments of Water and Environmental Affairs, Rural Development and Land Affairs, Agriculture and other state entities.

“We are also engaging with the private sector to ensure a bigger net for job opportunities that will adequately respond to huge job needs of military veterans and their dependents,” it said.

The department said all provincial coordinators of the department would have been employed by the beginning of April 2014, thus ensuring that military veterans would no longer have to travel to Pretoria to get services.
But according to many military veterans those promise have never materialised.

Then in April 2021, the WEEKEND ARGUS ran the story titled “SANDF veterans feel robbed of their special pension”.
The article revealed a two-year battle of South African National Defence Force veteran Sean Baker, to get his military pension has yielded no results for Baker years after he served his country.

Baker said he had appendix problems while he was still in the army and it got worse when he went for operations.

“I went for two operations and they both didn’t go well. The second one made it worse because I got an infection after going through with it,” he said.

Baker noted he wants to get a military medical benefit first and the others will follow but it has been difficult for him.

He said at the moment he can’t apply for any benefit because when he went to the department’s provincial office he was told he first needs to be registered in the database.

“I have been trying to get on the database for two years now and every time there is something else they require,” he said.

Baker said he doesn’t know what else to do because he feels he is being denied what is entitled to him after his service.

He alleged that the department’s official who he has been dealing with has been rude to him for no apparent reason.

The benefits of being a South African military veteran are Housing; free access to military health services; free or subsidised access to public transport; skills acquisition and education support; job placement; burial support; entrepreneurial support services counselling and military pension.

National spokesperson for the department Phumeza Dzuguda said Baker is not yet on the military veterans’ database.

“Mr Baker has contacted the DMV to register and was advised by a colleague on the process to follow. He is supposed to request his service certificate from the South African National Defence Force which has a different process from us,” she said.

Dzuguda said another colleague has also been in contact on the process of his application but due to some of the missing mandatory documents, it cannot be finalised as yet.

She said the department has not yet started to pay out pensions to military veterans. Once the pension is available, the process of applications, including the criteria will be communicated to the military veterans.

“For any military veteran to receive the 11 benefits that are stipulated in the Military Veterans Act 18 of 2011, he or she has to be registered in the national military veterans’ database,” she added.

Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA) member Alfred Willie said there are a lot of veterans who never received benefits.

He said most of them did not know where to go to apply in order to get the benefits.

“It is very bad that the very same people we fought for are the same ones denying us our special pension by adding technicalities in the processes,” he said.

Some commentary estimates that the membership of the ANC and PAC’s military wings in the 1990s stood at between 8000 and 10 000 members. These numbers swelled during the transition to democracy to 23 000 by 1994, and later to 33 000 members.

In an article that appeared in The Conversation in November 2021, it is suggested that this last-minute spike raised eyebrows at the time, and in fact can be blamed in part for the unhappiness ensued. The numbers went up because it was felt necessary to boost the relatively small number of liberation fighters, compared to the apartheid-era South African Defence Force which had a total of 67 500 active duty force and 360 000 in the citizen forces in 1993.

On top of this, the article attests, the dismantling of these armed forces and that of the apartheid state was, in retrospect, managed badly. The result is that it left in its wake thousands of angry veterans who felt betrayed.

In recent years they have come out vociferously against the ruling ANC. Most recently 53 veterans were charged with taking government ministers hostage in an attempt to get the government to fulfill promises they claim were broken.

For decades sociologists have warned that military veterans would use their skills to cause instability if their needs weren’t addressed.

Lephophotho Mashike, who has researched the subject extensively called them a ‘a ticking time bomb’.

The end of the armed hostilities following the end of apartheid in 1994 meant the establishment of a new united military – the South African National Defence Force. The former guerrillas and armies of the former nominally independent states of Venda, Bophuthatswana, Ciskei and Transkei, were either integrated into the new defence force or demobilised.

When the integration process was finalised in 2001, 44 143 names appeared on the collective Non-Statutory Force Certified Personnel Register.

Of these, 15 805 were integrated into the South African National Defence Force, 9 771 demobilised and 13 117 neither integrated or demobilised. Military veterans complained that the payments were inadequate.

Many have remained destitute due to poor education, lack of marketable skills, health problems and inability to reintegrate into society, as articulated in The Conversation.

In a 2006 report titled “Only Useful Until Democracy” found that 73% of the military veterans believed that South Africa’s post-apartheid leaders had forgotten them. Over 84% believed that their compensation was not adequate, felt neglected and abandoned by the ANC government.

But discontent remained, and even grew, continued The Conversation, as the Department of Military Veterans proved unable to roll out the benefits or even spend its allocated budget. This has been largely attributed to the lack of capacity and poor administration in the department.

This was reflected in the deliberations of Parliament’s Select Committee on Security and Justice, in March 2021.The department has consistently under-performed in terms of meeting the needs of veterans. It’s plagued by mismanagement and corruption, including wasteful, irregular and fruitless expenditure.

Many military veterans have alleged that the United Nations (UN) and other international bodies donated huge sums of money for the military veterans but the South African government has kept the money invested and is looting a lot of it which is meant for military veterans.

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